Wisconsin Hodag - The True Story

Wisconsin Hodag, Sheeshed horriblus

The Wisconsin Hodag is a large lizard with short legs and a streamlined body. The upper body is generally dark green and the underside is pale yellowish-green.

The reclusive Wisconsin Hodag is found throughout northern Wisconsin and they are equally at home on the ground and in trees. They may be found in almost any habitat, but are most common in wooded areas with an abundance of fallen trees and stumps to hide behind. The Wisconsin Hodag prefers moister habitats and are particularly common in bottom-land forests and along wooded river margins.

The Wisconsin Hodag is usually found on the ground and they are generally less arboreal (tree dwelling) than most Wisconsin lizards. Although sometimes seen in the open, these lizards are most often found in densely forested areas. When pursued, Wisconsin Hodags generally run for their underground den and can be quite difficult to capture. Like many other lizards, the Wisconsin Hodag will break off their tails when restrained, distracting the predator and allowing the lizard to escape.

History and First Identification

in 1893, newspapers reported the discovery of a Hodag in Rhinelander, Wisconsin. It was described as having "the head of a frog, the grinning face of a giant elephant, thick short legs set off by huge claws, the back of a dinosaur, and a long tail with spears at the end. The reports were instigated by well-known Wisconsin land surveyor, timber cruiser and prankster Eugene Shepard, who rounded up a group of local people to capture the animal. The group reported that they needed to use dynamite to kill the beast.


Wisconsin Hodag
Sheeshed horribilus
Lifespan 6-9 years
Weight 275-335 pounds
Length 6-7 feet
Color Green
Sexual Maturity 2 years
Gestation Period 128 days
Litter Size 4-6 hatchlings
Adult Predators Wolves, Coyotes, Bears

The Wisconsin Hodag is North America's largest lizard. Adults can be up to seven feet long and weigh over 300 pounds. The Wisconsin Hodag has webbed feet with a 3-foot tail that it uses to help maintain its balance when climbing trees. It will also slap its tail against the water to signal danger or to warn away predators. The Wisconsin Hodag has short front legs with heavy claws. Their rear legs are longer and they use their rear webbed feet to help propel themselves through the water as they are excellent swimmers.

The back and tail of the Wisconsin Hodag is covered with triangular-shaped scales that is uses to fend off predators. It has prominent curved upper incisors that extend up to 4 inches long and arching horns above its ears.


Wisconsin Hodags are carnivorous generalists with sophisticated foraging preferences. They consume small mammals, snakes and fish. Their diet varies considerably in both composition and species diversity by region and season.

Mating and Reproduction

Male Hodag Mating Call

American Hodag, Sheeshed horriblus, crossing sign The Wisconsin Hodag is solitary except for mating. Males call using grunts in distinct phrases: argh- argh-argh-argh. They mate when they are about 2 years old and mating occurs throughout April. Gestation lasts about 3 months and females have one litter of hatchlings a year from July to August.

The female digs a small nest cavity in loose soil and deposits between 4 to 10 eggs (typically 4-6). There is no covering on the eggs, but the female guards the eggs during the 3-month-long incubation period. The eggs increase in size during incubation. The babies are precocial (able to move around on their own) when they are born, and leave the den with 2 weeks, exploring outside the den with their mother.

Threats To Hodags

Juvenile hodags have been killed at an alarming rate in spring when first foraging on their own in auto accidents. Warning signs are posted throughout Northern Wisconsin to alert motorists to avoid juvenile Wisconsin Hodags crossing roadways.

Further Reading:

 Beavers — Nature's Hydrologist, Part 1
 Beavers — Nature's Hydrologist, Part 2
 Garter Snakes — The Gardener's Friend
 Wisconsin Native Salamanders
 Goundhog or Woochuck: All The Facts
 Voles, Both The Good and The Bad

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